Anxiety disorders adversely affect the lives of about 40 million Americans. They are plagued by insecurity, dread, persistent stress, and irrational fears. Noted essayist and author Barbara Graham reveals her personal story of a lifelong struggle with high anxiety, and details her expansive search for relief and peace of mind.
I take comfort in knowing I’m not a total outlier. “Everyone has to custom design their own pathway of soothing the nervous system,” says Tara Brach, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and founding teacher of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, DC. “There’s a reason it’s called a system.” For people who have difficulty staying put on a cushion, Brach recommends alternating short periods of sitting meditation with mindful movement—combining stretching or yoga and walking. Sometimes, it suffices simply to pause and take five deep breaths, expanding the inbreath and slowing the outbreath—a technique that helps me during 2 a.m. flopsweats.
It’s for this reason—practicing with others—that I sign up for a daylong workshop: “Mindfulness and Anxiety” at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA. There are about 200 of us, from 20-somethings to 70-somethings, with most people falling somewhere in between. The crowd looks as ordinary as an audience at the local multiplex. Yet, when Lee Lipp, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and meditation teacher who is co-leading the workshop with David Zimmerman, a Zen priest, asks participants to describe in one word why they’ve come, the answers illuminate every nuance of anxiety: “Nervous. Fearful. Stressed. Disassociated. Overwhelmed. Unsettled. Unsafe. Agitated. Worried. Uneasy. Insecure. Unlovable…” The list goes on.